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in the highest scuse of the word. These are traitors both to God and mall. These are
no other than the first-born of Satan; the eldest sons of Apollyon, the Destroyer. These are far above the rank of ordinary cut-throats ; for they murder the souls of men. They are continually peopling the realms of night; and whenever they follow the poor souls whom they have destroyed, “He shall be moved from beneath, to meet them at their coming!"
U. 1. But so they come now in their own shape? By no means. If it were so, they could not destroy: You would take the alarm, and fiee for your life. Therefore they put on a quite contrary appearance : (which was the Second thing to be considered :) “ They come to you in sheep's clothing, although inwardly they are ravening wolves.''
2. “They come to you in sleep's clothing";" that is, with an appearance of llarmlessness. They come in the most mild, inoffensive manner, without any mark or token of enmity. Who can imagine that these quiet creatures would do any hurt to any one!! Perhaps they may not be so zealous and active in doing good, as one would wish they were. However, you see no reason to suspect that they have even the desire to do any harm. But this is not all.
3. They come, secondly, with an appearance of Usefulness. Indeed to this, to do good, they are particularly called. They are set apart for this very thing. They are particularly commissioned to watch over your soul, and to train you up to eternal life. It is their whole business, to “go about doing good, and healing those that are oppressed of the Devil." And you bave been always accustomed to look upon them in this light, as messengers of (iod, sent to bring you a blessing.
4. They conic, thirsiy, with an appearance of Religion. All they do is for conscience' sake! They assure yoll, it is out of mere zeal for God, that they are making God a liar. It is out of pure concern for religion, that they would destroy it, root and branch. All they speak is only from a love of truth, and a fear lest it shouid suffer; and, it may be, from a regard for the Church, and a desire to defend her from all her enemies.
5. Above all, they come with an appearance of Love. They take all these pains, only for your good. They should not trouble themselves about you, but that they have a kindness for you. They will make large professions of their good will,
of their concern for the danger you are in, and of their earnest desire to preserve you from error, from being entangled in new and mischievous doctrines. They should be very sorry to see one who means so well, hurried into any extreme, perplexed with strange and unintelligible notions, or deluded into enthusiam. Therefore it is that they advise you to keep still, in the plain middle way; and to beware of “being righteous over-much,” lest you should " destroy yourself.”
III. 1. But How may we know, what they really are, notwithstanding their fair appearance? This was the Third thing into which it was proposed to inquire. Our blessed Lord saw how needful it was for all men to know false Prophets, however disguised. He saw, likewise, how unable most men were, to deduce a truth through a long train of consequences. He therefore gives us a short and plain rule, easy to be understood by men of the meanest capacities, and easy to be applied upon all occasions, “ Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
2. Upon all occasions you may easily apply this rule. In order to know whether any who speak in the name of God are false or true Prophets, it is easy to observe, first, What are the fruits of their doctrine as to themselves ? What effect has it had upon their lives? Are they holy aud unblameable in all things ? What effect has it had upon their hearts ? Does it appear by the general tenor of their conversation, that their tempers are holy, heavenly, divine ? That the mind is in them which was in Christ Jesus ? That they are meek, lowly, patient, lovers of God and man, and zealous of good works?
3. You may easily observe, secondly, What are the fruits of their doctrine as to those that hear them ;-in many, at least, though not in all; for the Apostles themselves did not convert all that beard them. Have these the mind that was in Christ ? And do they walk as He also walked? And was it by hearing these men that they began so to do? Were they inwardly and outwardly wicked till they heard them? If so, it is a manifest proof that those are true Prophets, Teachers sent of God. But if it is not so, if they do not effectually teach either themselves or others to love and serve God, it is a manifest proof that they are false Prophets; that God hath not sent them.
4. An hard saying this! How few can bear it! This our Lord was sensible of, and therefore condescends to prove it at large, by several clear and convincing arguments. “Do men,” says he, “gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles ? " (Ver. 16.) Do you expect that these evil men should bring forth good fruit ? As well might you expect that thorus should bring forth grapes, or that figs should grow upon thistles! “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt trec bringeth forth evil fruit.” (Ver. 17.) Every true Prophet, cvery Teacher whom I have sent, bringeth forth thic good fruit of holiness. But a false Prophet, a Teacher whom I have not sent, brings forth only sin and wickedness. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, ucither can a corrupt trec bring forth goocifruit.” Atrue Prophet, a Teacher sent from God, does not bring forth good fruit sometimes only, but always; not acciiloutally, but by a kind of necessity. In like manner, a fal-c Prophet, one whom God hath not scut, does not bring forth evil fruit accidentally, or sometimes only, but always, and of necessity; “ Diery tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Ver. 19.) Such infallibly will be the lot of those Prophets, who bring not forth good fruit, who do not save souls from sin, who do not bring simers to repentance. “Wherefore,” let this stand as an eternal rule, “ By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Ver. 20.) They who, in fact, bring the proud, passionate, unmerciful, lovers of the word, to be lowly, gentle, lovers of God and man,--they are true Prophets; they are sent from God, who therefore confirms their word. On the other hand, they whose hearers, if unrighteous before, remain unrighteous still, or at least, void of any righteousness which “exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisecs,”— they are false Prophets; they are not sent of God; therefore, their word falls to the ground. And, without a miracle of grace, they, and their hearers together, will fall into the bottomless pit!
5. () “beware of these false Prophets!” For though they “come in sheep's clothing, yet imrarily they are ravening wolves.” They only destroy and devour theflock: they tear them in picces, is there is none to help them. They will not, cannot, lead you in the way to heaven. How should they, when they know it not themselves ? o beware they do not turn you out of the way, and cause you to “lose what you have Wrought!
6. But perhaps you will ask, 'If there is such danger in hearing them, onght I to hear them at all?' It is it weighty question, such as deserves the deepest consideration, and
ought not to be answered, but upon the calmest thought, the most deliberate reflection. For many years I have been almost afraid to speak at all concerning it; being unable to determine one way or the other, or to give any judgment upon it. Many reasons there are which readily occur, and incline me to say, “ Hear them not.” And yet what our Lord speaks concerning the false Prophets of his own times, seems to imply the contrary. “ Then spake Jesus unto the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat,”—are the ordinary, stated Teachers in your Church : “ All therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do. But do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.” Now that these were false Prophets, in the highest sense, our Lord hath shown during the whole course of his ministry; as indeed he does in those very words, “They say, and do not." Therefore by their fruits his disciples could not but know them, seeing they were open to the view of all men. Accordingly he warns them again and again, to beware of these false Prophets. And yet he does not forbid them to hear even these: nay, he, in effect, commands them so to do, in those words : “All therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do :” For unless they heard them,, they could not know, much less observe, whatsoever they bade them do. Here then our Lord himself gives a plain direction, both to his Apostles and the whole multitude, in some circumstances, to hear even false Prophets, known and acknowledged so to be.
7. But perhaps it will be said, 'He only directed to hear them, when they read the Scripture to the congregation ?' I answer, at the same time that they thus read the Scripture, they generally expounded it too. And here is no kind of intimation that they were to hear the one, and not the other also. Nay, the very terms, “ All things whatsoever they bid you observe,” exclude any such limitation.
8. Again : Unto them, unto false Prophets, undeniably such, is frequently committed (0 grief to speak! for surely these things ought not so to be) the administration of the Sacrament also. To direct men, therefore, not to hear them, would be, in effect, to cut them off from the ordinances of God. But this we dare not do, considering the validity of the ordinance doth not depend on the goodness of him that administers, but on the faithfulness of Him that ordained it; who will and doth meet us in his appointed ways. Therefore, on this Vol. I. No. 9.
accomt, likewise, I scruple to say, 'Hear not even the fulse Prophets, veu by these wbo are under a curse themselves, God cau and doth give us bis blessing. For the bread which they break, we have experimentally known to be “the communion o! the body of Christ:" .Ind the cup which God blessed, even by their umballowed lips, was to us the communion of the blool of Christ.
9. All, therefore, which I can say, is this : In any particular case, wait upon God by humble and earnest prayer, and then act according to the best light you have : Act according to what you are persuaded, upon the whole, will be most for your spiritual advantage. Tuhe great care that you do not judge rashly; that you do not lightly think any to be false Prophets : And when you have full proof, see that 110 anger or contempt have any place in your heart. After this, in the presence and in the fear of God determine for yourself. I can only say, li by experience you and that the hearing them hurts your soul, then hear them not; then quietly refrain, and hear those that profit you. If, on the other hand, you find it does not hurt your soul, you then may hear them still. Only, “take heed how you hear:" beware of them and of their doctrine. Hear with fear and trembling, lest you should be deceived, and given up, like them, to a stroug delusion. As they continually iniugle truth and lies, how casily may you take in both together! Hear with fervent and continual prayer to Him who alone teacheth man wisdom. And see that you bring whatever you hear "in the law and to the testimony." Receive nothing untried, nothing till it is weighed in the balance of the sanctuary: believe nothing they say, unless it is clearly contirmed by plain passages of Holy Writ. Vlholly reject whatsoever ditlers iheretrom, whatever is not confirmed thereby. And, in particular, reject, with the utmost abhorrence, whatsoever is described is tlic way of salvation, that is either different from, or short of, the way our Lord has marked out in the foregoing Discourse.
10. I cannot conclude without addressing a few plain words to those of whom we have now been speaking. Oye false Prophets! (redry bones! hear ye, for once, the word of the Lord! How long will relie in the name of God, saving, “God hath spoken;" and God hath not poken by you? llow long will ye pervert the right ways of the Lord, putting darkness for light, and light for darkness? How long will se teach the way of scall, and call it the way of life? How long